Joan Micklin Silver, director of the 1975 romantic drama Hester Street who broke several barriers as a female filmmaker, passed away last Thursday at the age of 85. Her daughter confirmed that the cause of her death was due to vascular dementia.
Hester Street was deemed “too ethnic” by various studios at the time of its production. The film centered around an immigrant Jewish couple on the Lower East Side of 1890s Manhattan and had Yiddish dialogue with English subtitles. Backed by her family members and financed by her commercial real estate developer husband, Silver made the low budget black & white film in 34 days.
In 1980, Silver wanted to make Crossing Delancey, a romantic comedy starring Amy Irving and Peter Riegert. The film faced similar objections to Hester Street, but director Steven Spielberg stepped in to show his support and suggested she send the script to Warner Entertainment. Crossing Delancey went on to earn over $116 million worldwide.
Silver was born in Omaha in 1935 and was the child of Russian immigrants. Three weeks after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, she married her husband, Raphael D. Silver. Micklin taught music and dabbled in local theater in Ohio for the 11 following years before moving to New York with her family in 1967.
Following her work as a director, Silver worked with Linda Gottlieb at the Learning Corporation of America, where they produced educational and documentary short films. The duo also wrote screenplays, including Limbo which landed at Universal Studios.
Silver went on to write Off-Broadway theater, direct several feature films and half a dozen television movies. Her final film was the 2003 drama Hunger Point.
She is survived by her daughters, Claudia, Dina and Marisa Silver, her sister Renee, and five grandchildren. Her husband died in a skiing accident in 2013.